Effect vs Affect – How many times have students struggled with this troublesome pair? How many papers have you graded that confused these words? Before Common Core State Standards, our state standards gave a long list of troublesome word pairs students had to learn. Teaching this skill was monotonous for both students and teachers. Because of this, I experimented with different teaching methods. This skill hasn’t gone away with Common Core. Instead, it has become more general.
Correctly use frequently confused words (e.g., to, too, two; there, their).*
The main difference is unless you teach 4th grade you can select the confusing word pairs to teach depending on the needs of your students. Here is what works for me.
Step 1 – Select Words
When I talk with students that grew up in the community where I teach, I listen for patterns of grammatical errors. Note that I didn’t grow up where I teach. If I did, I would ask a colleague to help me. Then I evaluate students’ writing during the first week or two of school. Pretty soon I notice patterns.
Dialect has a direct tie to which troublesome word pairs to select as your area of focus. For example, in the Southern Appalachian area leave/let and learn/teach are rarely confused. I find that pointing out that these are commonly confused pairs makes students overthink the use of these words creating problems where none existed before.
Instead of a more traditional list, I might select the following:
- they was/there were
- ‘un/one such as in big’un, you’uns, young’un, etc.
- might could/might be able
As you can see, some of these problem areas are regional while others are more widespread.
Next narrow down the list to no more than 10 troublesome word pairs to focus on during the school year. It is much better to teach a few well than go over a long list that students won’t remember.
Links to the Free Resources on Effect vs Affect
Step 2 – Teach Rules
Select one pair as the ‘Troublesome Pair of the Month’. Begin by creating an organizer that goes over the correct use of the pair. I find that this is one skill that students actually refer to their notes to make sure they are using the words correctly.
As an example, I’m giving away a free lesson for affect/effect. It includes foldable and digital organizers with practice. Both a digital and printable version are included. You can get them here. The following information is included on the organizer.
Affect is usually a verb (95% of the time) meaning to influence, result, repercussion, consequence, outcome, or aftermath.
I didn’t expect that book to affect me the way it did.
Affect is a verb in this sentence.
Effect is usually a noun meaning a result of a change, alter, influence, modify, and impact.
Studying had a positive effect on her grades.
Effect is a noun in this example.
Try substituting the word influence in place of affect. If it makes sense, the word is most likely affect.
Try substituting the word cause in place of effect. If it makes sense, the word is most likely effect.
Bill doesn’t have an umbrella. The rain affects Bill. Being wet is the effect of the rain.
Substitute influence for effect and cause for effect.
Bill doesn’t have an umbrella. The rain influences Bill. Being wet is the cause of the rain.
Rule 3 – Rare Exceptions to the Rules
Sometimes affect is a noun and effect is a verb.
Affect – noun meaning feelings or emotions
While being home-schooled, Tricia’s mother observed her daughter’s affect.
When the news cast showed the robber, my dad’s affect was upsetting.
Effect – verb meaning bring about
The teachers wanted to effect change in the after-school program.
The student protest was planned to effect better lunch menus.
Students complete the sentences with versions of effect and affect.
- The movie _________ my ability to sleep for months.
- Making 100 on the test was an ____________ of studying.
- I didn’t let his comments ___________________ me.
- Our teacher said, our projects will ______________ our grades.
- What do you think the _______ of the decision will be?
- No matter what he does, it will not __________________ me.
- His attitude was _________________ by his upbringing.
- Do you know what ____________ that medicine will have on you?
- The new rules have had the desired __________________.
My headache _______________ my ability to concentrate.
Links to the free Resources
Step 3 – Directed Practice
Practice can include anything from printables, games, PowerPoint activities and more. I created a free Boom Card activity to use with affect/effect. I used sample sentences from the novel Ender’s Game for this practice to build interest in the activity. Even if students have not read this novel, I find they prefer reading excerpts from a novel over a group of random practice sentences.
Step 4 – Independent Practice
Any time students proofread their writing, have them highlight the focus words for the month. Bringing the words to the attention of students is often enough for students to correct their own mistakes.